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April 19, 2014
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editorial

The rules apply to all candidates


Campaign finance reform has been moved to the front burner in New York State (NYS) in recent weeks. Little wonder, in light of a number of elected officials involved in political corruption scandals that have rocked Albany lately.

Perhaps this is what pushed the state assembly last week to pass, by a vote of 87 to 49, the 2013 Fair Elections Act to reform the state’s campaign finance system. The bill (A.4980-C) would cover statewide offices, state legislative offices and constitutional convention delegates. It would establish optional public financing of elections, create an independent Board of Fair Elections and increase disclosure of the sources of political contributions. A similar bill (S.4897), titled the 2013 Integrity in Elections Act is before the NYS Senate, and Governor Cuomo has released his own proposals for campaign finance reform.

Albany’s hot topic is on the minds of many voters, too.

A recent bipartisan poll of New Yorkers showed overwhelming support for campaign finance reform in the Empire State. After seven out of 10 people polled gave the state’s legislators a negative rating, fully 82% of those surveyed said they blamed the legislature’s poor performance on the influence of money in politics and on corruption. The survey was paid for by New York’s Friends of Democracy (www.scribd.com/doc/139756430/NY-Friends-of-Democracy-CFR-Survey-Press-Me...), one of several organizations (as well as Fair Elections for New York and Citizens Union) are advocating for reform, including public matching funds for small campaign donations, lower ceilings on campaign contributions, fully identifying outside contributors and their expenditures, and strict enforcement of NYS campaign finance rules and regulations.

Even business seems to be considering the wisdom of changing the political culture in Albany. Last October, when 300 NYS business leaders were polled, they too offered broad support for campaign finance reform. (This was a Zogby Analytics poll funded by the Committee for Economic Development.) For one business executive’s take on the subject, read Jerome Kohlberg’s recent op-ed column, “Public Financing, Public Trust,” in Crain’s New York Business. (www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130428/OPINION/304289983)

Well, you might say, of course they need this kind of legislation in Albany where influence buying has a long and intractable history. It seems to us, however, that the principles involved remain the same even in local elections. Does not the public have a right to know who is bankrolling local candidates for office at county and municipal government levels, too? And if there are rules, should they not be complied with?

Which brings us to this rule from the NYS Board of Elections (BOE) Campaign Finance website pertaining to local candidates: “Local filers [i.e. candidates filing to run for election] who raise or spend, or expect to raise or spend more than $1,000 in any calendar year are… required to register and file campaign financial disclosure reports with NYSBOE, in addition to filing with the appropriate county or city board of elections.” (Those who raise or spend less than $1,000 still must register with their local boards of elections.)

Because special interests with money to spend on election campaigns can dominate the debate, it seems to us at The River Reporter that the very least the public can expect is to know who is funding local candidates and their campaigns, as existing finance reporting rules require. It also seems that at the very least, candidates, their campaign committees and their contributors ought to obey the state’s campaign finance reporting rules, or face the consequences.

Candidates for election should not be able to pick and chose which rules they want to obey, and when some candidates comply with the rules but others don’t, the playing field is not level. Knowing disregard for the state election board’s filing regulations is reprehensible, but ignorance is also no defense or justification.

Voters long for ethical and transparent government. Whether in Washington, DC, Albany, or in local elections, removing hidden influence of special interest money will help give elections back to the people and restore confidence in the electoral process.